Indeed, Indonesia's 17,500 islands can feel, at times, like so many marbles on a wobbly table. A subtle tilt, and they'll all roll in one direction. As recently as 2005, Indonesia seemed to be tipping toward Islamic radicalism, feeding Western fears that it was becoming a haven for terrorists. For several decades, Indonesian society had been growing more overtly Islamic: Attendance at mosques swelled, and Muslim dress became popular. In the late 1990s, a growing number of district governments began enacting regulations inspired by sharia, or Islamic law, and support for Islamic political parties was on the rise. Increasingly, militant Islamic groups that advocated a violent struggle to recast Indonesia as an Islamic republic seemed to be drowning out the voices of the majority of Indonesian Muslims, who believe that their faith can smoothly coexist with modernity and democratic values.
But in the past few years, although Indonesians continue to embrace Islam in their private lives with greater fervor, it's become clear that most don't want religion to be enforced in the political sphere. "So many people equate Muslim piety with radicalism," says Sidney Jones, an Indonesia specialist with the nonprofit International Crisis Group who has lived in the country for more than 30 years. "Indonesia is full of examples of why that notion is wrong." As Islamist politicians have moved to regulate women's dress codes and ban activities like yoga, moderates have begun to make their voices heard. In the Indonesian parliamentary elections this past April, candidates backed by Muslim organizations received less than 23 percent of the vote, down from 38 percent in 2004.
Though the recent bombings are a setback, Indonesia has lately been seen as a success story in how to curb violent extremism. Authorities have arrested at least 200 members of Jemaah Islamiyah in the past five years, although some dangerous fugitives remain at large. Many radicals have shifted to advocating the establishment of Islamic law. Even Abu Bakar Baasyir, since his release from jail in 2006, has distanced himself from more militant factions of Jemaah Islamiyah and begun promoting the struggle for sharia as the way for Islamists to achieve their goal of transforming the democratic nation into an Islamic republic.